The leftwing candidate in Mexico’s presidential election is “almost certain” to challenge Sunday’s vote in a move that would heighten tensions and increase uncertainty about the country’s immediate political future.

The possibility of a challenge was raised as Felipe Calderón, centre-right candidate for the ruling National Action party (PAN), looked to have taken a small but decisive lead in what is turning out to be the closest election in Mexico’s history.

A preliminary count by the country’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) showed Mr Calderon ahead by 400,000 votes – about 1 per cent of the total cast – over Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The institute’s official count is set to begin on Wednesday morning and it could declare an official winner as early as this week.

Manuel Camacho, a leading adviser to Mr López Obrador and a congressman for his Democratic Revolution party (PRD), told the Financial Times on Tuesday: “We are almost certainly going to contest this election . . . but we are not going to generate a dispute unless we are sure of our arguments.”

Stopping short of claiming outright electoral fraud, Mr Camacho said there were “serious discrepancies” in the vote-counting process that, once rectified, could easily tip the result in favour of Mr López Obrador.

Uncertainty arising from a serious legal challenge to Sunday’s vote is something investors and markets had hoped to avoid. On Monday, as the business-friendly Mr Calderón’s unofficial lead in the count consolidated, the local currency recorded the biggest one-day gains in six years. Mexico’s stock index increased almost 5 per cent.

Analysts believe a prolonged legal challenge to the result – and even widespread social protests from Mr López Obrador’s supporters – could reverse those gains, at least in the short term.

On Tuesday, Mr Camacho cited four inconsistencies that gave grounds for legal action. First, he said, IFE claimed that 59 per cent of the country’s registered voters – equivalent to 42m – went to the polls on Sunday but only 39m votes appeared in the unofficial count. “What happened to those 3m votes that are missing?” he asked yesterday.

Second, he claims there were fewer votes cast in the presidential race than in the congressional elections, which had never happened before. “It just does not make sense and we find it very worrying,” he said.

Third, he said about 9 per cent of the votes included in IFE’s “quick count” – a sample of the overall count taken on Sunday night to try quickly to determine a winner – were inconsistent with the PRD’s own parallel quick count.

Fourth, Mr Camacho accused President Vicente Fox, a member of Mr Calderón’s PAN party, of talking on Sunday night with Luis Carlos Ugalde, head of the independent IFE.

“This is like a judge making a deal with the executive,” he said. “I am not saying there was a fraud but there was co-ordination between the head of IFE and the president of the republic.”

Mr Camacho said his party would have until September 6 to submit a formal case with the country’s Federal Electoral Tribunal.

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